On May 16, the CDC updated its guidance regarding mask-wearing: “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing.” It goes on to list exceptions, including local regulations and businesses as well as workplace guidance. As someone who hates having had to wear a mask when entering businesses and other public buildings over the past year, I am thankful for this change. Last month I chose to become fully vaccinated primarily because of the increased freedom that I will soon have.
Whether to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is a choice, and I respect those who have chosen not to; in fact, I know some of them. Some have chosen not to because they have previously contracted COVID and thus have antibodies. In fact, there is plenty of research to suggest that people who have recovered from COVID are even better protected than people who have never had it but have been vaccinated. Other people have chosen not to because they want to wait for further research about side effects. The point is that becoming vaccinated or not should be a choice; there are those who have foolishly said, for example, that it’s “patriotic” to get the COVID vaccine, implying that it’s “unpatriotic” to refrain from getting it. There has also been talk about “vaccine passports.” It wasn’t that long ago that medically-based decisions were personal and thus private, but there are those who seem to think that this doesn’t apply to the COVID vaccines.
As mentioned earlier, I hate having had to wear a mask, and there are four reasons for this. First of all, having to remember to put it on when I am about to enter a public building has been annoying. Second, and more importantly, there were times last year when my wife and I were hiking in state parks, and masking was required. Breathing is more difficult when wearing a mask, especially when doing something more strenuous than walking in my neighborhood or shopping. As a result, I had my mask off most of the time and then quickly put it back on when other hikers were approaching. Third, I’ve gotten tired of muffled voices, which make it more difficult to understand others. For example, I love using ATMs, but last year I had to enter a bank to speak with a teller. It was very difficult to understand him, and he ended up making a mistake, which I later had to rectify by making an appointment and sitting down, masked of course, with another bank employee. Finally, does anyone besides me miss seeing faces when out and about? Thankfully, virtually everyone in my neighborhood goes maskless when outside, but in other contexts, I have sorely missed the non-verbal communication of facial expressions, especially smiles.
That said, I have complied with mask-wearing guidelines when in public buildings. I have also complied with them during a couple of outdoor get-togethers with brothers and sisters from my church. Speaking of: our church is about to reopen, and we have been discussing many details related to it. Not surprisingly, mask-wearing has been a hot topic. Parents of young children, who are not yet eligible for a vaccine, have been one concerned group. Another group has been the elderly; even though they have been vaccinated, some have expressed some fear; at the same time, they are the ones who are most eager to return to in-person worship. We have also discussed what to do if a visitor enters the church and is reluctant to wear a mask. As my wife and I discussed this, the biblical principle that came to mind is this one in Romans 14:13: “Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” Similarly, I Corinthians 8:9 says, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” I think these verses clearly apply to our elderly brothers and sisters who have expressed fear because even though they have been vaccinated, they are at higher risk of hospitalization and death from COVID. However–and I give credit to my wife for this insight–I think it also applies to brothers or sisters who are reluctant to wear a mask at church. I think that the elderly should certainly be free to wear a mask, but also that those believers who are adamant about not wearing a mask should be free not to wear one. For the time being, I am willing to wear a mask at church, but I admit that I am not willing to do so forever!
I hope that as the reopening of the U.S. continues, people will be considerate of one another and not look down on those who choose to treat mask-wearing differently than they do. And especially for those of us who claim the name of Christ, I trust that we will be considerate of one another as well.